Vasilopita – A New Year’s Eve Tradition

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If you’ve been reading this little blog for any time at all, you’ll know that Greeks are sticklers for their holiday traditions. Naturally, our New Year’s Eve tradition involves food – specifically, you bake a vasilopita, which is a sweet bread baked into a round shape. We also make tsoureki (the same type of bread) at Easter.

Below is the email that my mom sent me with my Yiayia Vaso’s recipe included. This same recipe has been in my family for at least a hundred years (but knowing Greeks, it’s probably been around for two or three centuries longer than that).

Yiayia Vaso came to stay with us in Washington D.C. in 1975. That Easter, she wanted to adapt her tsourekia recipe so she can use our brand new Black and Decker mixer instead of mixing the ingredients by hand. I made this recipe for the first time when you were a few months old. By then, she would rather occupy you and Dean than cook. I wrote the recipe on an index card (I still have it) and I have been making her tsourekia ever since.

1 ½ cup milk
2 sticks sweet butter
1 ½ cups sugar
2 envelopes yeast
6 eggs + 2 extra egg whites (reserve the yolks)
1 orange the juice and rind
5 lbs – ¾ cup flour

Warm milk until comfortable to the touch (about 110 degrees). Pour milk in a large container and stir in the yeast plus 1 teaspoon of sugar and 2 cups of flour. Mix with a wooden spoon until well blended.

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Cover with plastic wrap, and put in a warm place (I put it in the cold oven with the oven light on) for the yeast to rise. When mixture is bubbly it is done. Set aside for now.

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In your mixer, beat eggs with sugar until light and fluffy (about 10 minutes). The mixture should be a very pale yellow.

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Melt butter and add it slowly to the egg mixture.

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Add orange juice and orange rind and continue to mix for another 5 minutes.

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In the meantime the yeast mixture should be ready.

Slowly add the egg/sugar/orange juice mix to the yeast mixture and stir with the wooden spoon. Add the flour one cup at a time and continue to mix with the spoon.

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When mixture become difficult to mix with the spoon, use your hands to knead the batter.

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Continue to add flour until batter is firm and well mixed and not sticky. Usually, between 8 and 9 cups does the trick. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel on top and set aside (in the oven if you like, but turn off the light this time).

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**Since it is downright cold in North Carolina, I had to turn my oven on to 200 degrees for 5 minutes. I then turned off the oven, wrapped my dough in a clean garbage bag (to keep out the air) and covered it with towels to hold in the heat. Without doing this, my dough simply would not rise.

When the batter is double in size (after about 1 hour) it is ready for your to shape it into loaves.

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Take a handful of the dough and dust it with a little flour. (I took the above picture after I had sprinkled flour on the entire bowl of dough). Fold it into a ball for the vasilopita.

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The remainder of the batter can either be braided or simply rolled into an oblong oval and put into loaf pans. After your vasilopita is shaped, wash a quarter, wrap it in a piece of foil and tuck it into the loaf, making sure to cover the spot where it was inserted. I’ll explain this part of the tradition in a bit.

Cover the bread and set aside until they are double in size. Prior to baking, combine your leftover yolk with a tablespoon of milk to make an egg wash. Brush the egg wash over the top of the loaves to add a nice shine to the finished product. Bake in preheated oven at 325 for about 45-50 minutes.

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To finish off the vasilopita, write out the new year (2011) with almonds and sprinkle the bread with powdered sugar.

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At midnight, cut pie-shaped slices out of your vasilopita and designate each slice to a member of the family (starting with the eldest). After you’ve run our of family members, you can assign slices to the house, your career, distant family, etc… until you’ve sliced the entire loaf. Whichever slice ends up with the quarter has good luck and prosperity for the entire year.

Happy New Year everyone! Whether I win the coin or not, I know that 2011 is going to be a wonderful year for us all.

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